Russia, France warn of explosive Korea situation

North Korea is under crippling sanctions imposed for carrying out nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but UN resolutions specify that these should not affect humanitarian aid (AFP Photo/STR) (KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File)

President Vladimir Putin warned Friday of a "major conflict" looming on the Korean Peninsula, calling for crisis talks as France's foreign minister warned of a possible threat to Europe.

Nuclear-armed North Korea on Tuesday fired a ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific, escalating tensions over its atomic programme which have led to bellicose exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang.

Putin warned that the region was "on the brink of a major conflict".

"The problems in the region will only be solved via direct dialogue between all concerned parties, without preconditions," Putin said in a Kremlin statement, warning that "threats, pressure and insulting and militant rhetoric are a dead end."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian meanwhile said North Korea was close to being able to launch long-range missiles.

"The situation is extremely serious... We see a North Korea whose objective is to have missiles capable of transporting a nuclear weapon tomorrow," he told RTL radio.

"In a few months, that will be a reality. At that moment, when it has the capability to hit the US, even Europe and at the very least Japan and China, with a nuclear weapon, the situation will be explosive," he said, urging Pyongyang to return to talks.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump warned that "all options" were back on the table after the reclusive state fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile over Japan, snubbing Washington's bid to draw it into talks.

The launch came on the heels of two missile tests last month that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach, prompting Trump to threaten Pyongyang with "fire and fury".

Pyongyang has also threatened to fire rockets towards the US South Pacific territory of Guam.

The UN Security Council denounced the latest missile test, unanimously demanding that Pyongyang halt its nuclear programme and "all related activities".

- Military exercises -

US heavy bombers and stealth jet fighters took part in a joint live-fire drill in South Korea on Thursday, intended as a show of force against the North.

Putin called for all sides to sign on to a mediation programme drawn up by Moscow and Beijing.

He echoed comments by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who in a Wednesday telephone call with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson "underscored... the need to refrain from any military steps that could have unpredictable consequences."

The Russia-China plan involves a mutual pause in missile tests by North Korea as well as the joint South Korean-US military exercises by Seoul.